This story is written by Robin Buehler.
Children from Gilda’s Club of South Jersey’s Noogieland program took to picking beach plums at Brin-Am Acres in Upper Township’s Palermo section on Sunday (Sept. 8).
The event was organized in partnership with the property owners, Pat and Mark Johnson, who wanted to give back to the organization for helping them when Mark battled cancer following 9/11. He was one of the many law enforcement and first responders who responded to ground zero in the days and hours following the 9/11 attack 12 years ago.
“Gilda’s Club has done a lot for me,” Johnson said. “They gave me a lot of support” when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Johnson, a current Gilda’s Club member and supporter, said he was diagnosed when he went to the doctor’s for the discoloring in his skin and eyes; yet, he wasn’t prepared for the news he received that day. Being told he had cancer had dumbfounded him, Johnson admitted, adding that it isn’t unusual to feel that way after receiving that kind of news.
It is also normal to feel isolated, that no one else knows what it’s like to be in that position, but there is, Johnson advised the children who came to his house to pick the beach plums Sept. 8; there is always someone out there whom they can go and talk to.
“It’s OK to lean on people,” he said, indicating that all they have to do is to show it, say they need help, and someone will be there to lend a helping hand.
Johnson, a former New York law enforcement officer and Federal Bureau of Investigation officer, now occupies his time with Brin-Am Acres, where he raises 50 beach plum trees.
Johnson said got into growing the beach plums about a decade ago. He responded to an advertisement Rutgers Cooperative Extension had taken out. They were looking for people who might be interested in reintroducing the beach plums to the area. Many had been wiped out due to development, he said.
These blueberry-sized fruits are a species of plums native to the East Coast, primarily in the coastal areas of Maine to Maryland. Johnson said the shrubs are beneficial to these areas because they help prevent erosion.
They can also be used for jams, sauces and jellies. They can also be eaten as they are, fresh from the shrub, but be careful. They are pitted.
In addition to several jars of jam being available, the berries picked by the children Sept. 8 were also being given out straight from the shrubs in exchange for donations to Gilda’s Club. The money raised will go to funding programs at Gilda’s Club, including Noogieland.
This particular program is geared to children affected by cancer, whether it’s a family member or themselves personally and offers a variety of events and outings which allow the children to be themselves for a little while and not worry or think about what they’re going through.
The kids said that they enjoyed being out at Johnson’s home, with each saying that picking the beach plums was “fun.”
“It keeps you occupied,” nine year-old Madison Majors, of Ocean City, noted, adding that she felt she didn’t have to go to her mother and ask “’What can I do now?’”
She lost her father to cancer three years ago.
Majors was side-by-side on Sunday picking beach plums with Emma Obeirne, 9, of Galloway Township.
Gilda’s Club of South Jersey is located in Linwood in Atlantic County, but offered to families not only Atlantic County but the surrounding counties.